On November 17th, the Netherlands district court will announce the verdict on 4 individuals standing accused for their involvement in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Russian separatist-held territory of Ukraine on 17 July 2014. All 298 passengers and crew on board, including 10 UK nationals died as the result of the downing.
The Henry Jackson Society held an event on the 9th of November to highlight the soon to be recognised Russian responsibility for the terrorist act. Joining the panel were Eliot Higgins, founder of the Bellingcat investigative team, the first team to identify the missile that shot the plane as originating from Russia, lawyer Jonathan Gimblett, currently working on Ukraine’s claim against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights, and Dr Marnie Howlett of Oxford University, who focuses on the region and was in Ukraine in 2014 for her own field research.
The Dutch court will deliver a verdict on 4 individuals, including Irog Girkin, former FSB officer and chief of intelligence of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Three defendants are tried in absentia, with only one, Oleg Pulatov – a former Russian military intelligence GRU officer, seeking legal representation and claiming the court took an unjust position on the flight.
Commenting on the need for justice and accountability for the victims of the downing, Dr Howlett said: “it matters for the families and we show that there is accountability and that we are doing something and that their lives did matter. I think, more importantly, it shows that we do believe in democracy and we do believe in the rule of law, and I think that, fundamentally at its core, [this] is why we should bother and why it does matter.”
Russia’s brazen disregard for the rules and international law, let alone the lives of the innocent people it killed are apparent from the abundant evidence the investigative teams had at their disposal to identify the weapons and people responsible. The open source data accessed by Bellingcat, and open to all, made the Kremlin’s violent intentions of perpetrating unashamed violence towards civilians akin to a trail of breadcrumbs that have sparked so many investigations into Putin’s crimes.
As Eliot Higgins said: “over the following years as we gathered the evidence, we identified the military unit the launcher came from, our profile was increasing in the media, we realised the utility, that we could do something more, with open-source investigations and that it wasn’t just a magic trick.”
However, a little over eight years later, and with ample prior warning, the West allowed Russia to invade Ukraine, which has so far led to at least 200,000 soldiers dead or wounded and countless civilian casualties, according to the Pentagon’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley.
With calls appearing in the West for a winter ceasefire in Ukraine and going as far as suggesting a halt to supply of weapons and aid to Ukraine, Russia is beginning to win the hearts and minds of the reactionary and opportunistic politicians and public figures, eager to make a name on the lives of others. The public mood on the ground in Ukraine is clear and voiced by President Zelenskyy in his conditions for talks: “restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the UN Charter, compensation for all damages caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again”. Anything less is Putin’s narrative and those who peddle it have to be viewed as Russian agents.
Speaking of support for Ukraine, Jonathan Gimblet said: “We did, I think, allow things to slip with Russia. It’s been pretty obvious for 10 or 15 years that this is a pretty unpleasant regime and it’s just been getting more unpleasant and more adventurous as we let it get away with things. Hopefully, finally, we’ve woken up to the nature of the regime and we will see tough action going forward and we will not see Ukrainian interests sold out in a rush to get a negotiated peace. Ukraine has to be in charge of the terms on which this conflict ends and, hopefully, with our support, it will be able to exact just terms.”